Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The haunted abode

It's this time of year again: we're haunted. The ghosts and goblins appear in our windows and doors - time to appease them with gifts of candy and other goodies.
These goblins were created by Marina and Lauren and Marina's classmate Chayenne.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween recital

Marina at the piano

The proud parents (Derek and Airdrie)

Lauren at the piano

Marina singing

Derek and Airdrie invited us to come to the annual Halloween recital which Lorraine's music students put on every year. This time, it took place at a well-known local pizza restaurant. Both Marina and Lauren displayed their great talents for all guests. A huge surprise for us was that Marina also sang ("Butterfly" was her selection). She has an amazing voice, and a totally relaxed poise in front of an audience. We were all totally thrilled. Marina must have inherited some of that talent from her dad, as well as her Great-Grandfather (my wife's father and Derek's Grandfather), who was a singer, musician, and composer.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A moonrise from the window

Having just returned from California, it is a nice surprise to have a beautiful, clear day and evening - free of all the smoke. Even more lovely was the full moon rise over the northeast mountains, as viewed from our living room window (see picture).

The full moon always appears opposite the sun in the sky. At this time of year the sun sets fairly low in the southwest (and it'll get lower still until December 21). This means that the full moon rises high in the northeast, and sets high in the northwest. In the summer, the sun rises and sets that way, and at that time the full moon rises low in the southeast and sets low in the southwest. A quick rule of thumb: summer sun equals winter full moon, summer full moon equals winter sun. You can also say that sun and full moon are always two seasons apart.

The picture on the left was taken through a double-paned window and shows some faint smudges and reflections as a result. It is actually a combination of two pictures, one exposed to show the bushes, trees and mountains, the other to show the details in the moon's "face". In the first picture the bushes and mountains are correctly exposed, but the moon is overexposed and shows no detail. In the second picture (not shown in this posting), the moon is correctly exposed, but the bushes are barely visible. Consumer type digital camera CCDs do not have the dynamic range of the human eye; the eye perceives detail in both bright and dark areas at the same time. Using Photoshop, the two pictures were combined to give the same impression that I had when I looked at the scene.

This picture is one of several which were taken from the front steps a little later. The histogram of the moon's image in this picture was adjusted to bring out the detail, and the contrast in the whole picture was increased to enhance the appearance of the bushes. This is a single picture, not the combination of two. It played no part in the combined picture above.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Smoke gets in your eyes

We have just returned from a short trip to San Diego. Most of you are aware of the extremely vicious wildfires currently affecting that area. While the location of our stay with friends at La Jolla Shores was not directly in the path of the fires, their effects could be felt, none-the-less. There was a constant trickle of fine ash particles; my wife found that the smoky smell affected her breathing, and I had an irritated feeling in my eyes. None in our group was seriously inconvenienced, but in general, the media reported a prevalence of breathing problems.

We have our share of natural disasters here, but I cannot think of another calamity short of an earthquake which would be as destructive as these fires, and so far beyond human control. The only option if you don't want to take chances is not to live in the areas subject to disasters. That's like saying that if you don't want to get rained on, move to a place where it doesn't rain. Generally, desirable locations (mountain slopes, picturesque valleys, lakeside or oceanside viewpoints, etc.) are also subject to some sort of problem (slides, floods, wave erosion, and so on...).

No enjoyment without some risk...

Here are some pictures:

an eerie sun

orange beach scene

From the plane on the way home: smoke as far as you can see.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The next cycle

Dereks' started a new cycle of chemotherapy, which was planned some time ago. So far he has few side effects. We're glad to hear this. Derek says that is feeling reasonably well, which is wonderful, considering what he's had to go through this year.

On a different note:

A few days ago, I bought a Samsung mp3 player and a little FM tunable transmitter. The idea is to be able to play mp3 music through the car radio/cd player in my van, which can't handle mp3 natively. This seems to work quite well. Both units can work on their internal batteries, or you can connect them to an external power supply (including the cigarette lighter) for external power. The mp3 player's battery can be recharged through a USB connection to a computer.

In use, the trick is to find some unused portion of the FM band, to minimize interference from FM radio stations.

I've found one quirk: if you connect both the player and the transmitter to the cigarette lighter, there is some kind of positive feedback which generates an inordinate amount of noise in the radio. If you connect one or the other only, everything's fine. So, I'm using the mp3 player on its internal battery, and the transmitter is powered through the cigarette lighter.

The sound quality in the car is quite good. The mp3 player has a standard headphone output connector, which allows it to be hooked up to external sound equipment, with excellent results. As I type this, I'm listening to it via the computer speaker system normally connected to my laptop.

Music selections are copied to the transmitter from a computer via USB, using software which comes with the player. This software also manages (delete, sort, etc.) what is stored on the player. Capacity is 2 Gbytes, enough for about 500 music selections. At an average of about 3.5 minutes each, that translates to about 30 hours worth of music.

You can also store photos, videos, text files, and games on the player, as well as listen to FM radio or use it like a voice recorder. Versatile enough for me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Giving thanks

Here in Canada we celebrate thanksgiving day in October. This year, even the weather was worth some thanks. Our sister-in-law and brother-in-law invited the whole extended family. We do have a lot to be thankful for. Dinner was plentiful - obligatory turkey, ham, several "ethnic" dishes (we counted French Canadian, Native Canadian, Danish, Finnish, German, Austrian, Scottish, Ukranian, and Carribean ancestry in the "family" tree). As usual, a great time was had by all, thanks to everyone's efforts. The dining room overflowed. We see our family expanding.
My wife and I appreciated that Derek much enjoyed the dinner, too. You can see that he has a lot of backup, if needed.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A day out

Today is a beautiful day (the weekend coming up is forecast to be lousy again). My wife suggested a trip to our favourite local winery (Domain de Chaberton) to have lunch in their famous Bistro, located right beside the grapes that produce some their wine, and to pick up some of that wine. We invited Derek and Airdrie come along and we all had a wonderful lunch. The food at the Bistro is French gourmet - my wife and I usually have our favourite meals there - mussels for my wife, and stuffed crepes for me. Derek and Airdrie had a great meal, too. Were happy to see Derek have such a good appetite.
If you're interested to visit the winery, here's the Google map:

Some "drop of a hat" decisions sure have enjoyable outcomes.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Astronomy by proxy

During these days (and nights) of lousy weather, persuing my Astronomy hobby "live" is not easy. However, the internet provides the means to enjoy what technology can do in that regard. I subscribe to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Newsletter. It notifies me of new discoveries in areas in which JPL is active. In any case, even if the weather were absolutely clear, nobody on Earth could see the things shown below, even with the most sohisticated telescopes. So, I would have to use the internet "technology options (my wording)" anyway, JPL being the "proxy". What a marvellous use of technology.

One of the technology options is a Martian satellite named "Odyssey" which is orbiting Mars capturing images and other remotely sensed data, using various instruments on board. Among the latest images are some which suggest that caves may exists in some areas on that planet. Here is one of the images (more complete news are found here):

The NASA description is as follows:

Each of the three images in this set covers the same patch of Martian ground, centered on a possible cave skylight informally called "Annie," which has a diameter about double the length of a football field. The Thermal Emission Imaging System camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter took all three, gathering information that the hole is cooler than surrounding surface in the afternoon and warmer than the surrounding surface at night.

This is thermal behavior that would be expected from an opening into an underground space. The left image was taken in visible-wavelength light. The other two were taken in thermal infrared wavelengths, indicating the relative temperatures of features in the image. The center image is from mid-afternoon. The hole is warmer than the shadows of nearby pits to the north and south, while cooler than sunlit surfaces. The thermal image at right was taken in the pre-dawn morning, about 4 a.m. local time. At that hour, the hole is warmer than all nearby surfaces.

Annie and six other features with similar thermal behavior are on the northern slope of a high Martian volcano named Arsia Mons, which is at 9 degrees south latitude, 239 degrees east longitude.

Mars Odyssey is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The orbiter's Thermal Emission Imaging System was developed by Arizona State University, Tempe, in collaboration with Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing, Santa Barbara, Calif., and is operated by Arizona State University. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/USGS